Linking superstitious beliefs and behaviors to coincidental events occurs because of a process that psychologists call operant conditioning. Skinner, the foremost proponent of operant conditioning and author of the famous article "Superstition in the Pigeon," convincingly demonstrated that coincidence develops superstitious behavior. Skinner put pigeons into separate cages and had a prize (food) dropped periodically (remarkably similar to slot machine payouts!). After just a few minutes, each bird exhibited a different bizarre behavior. Some bobbed their heads up and down, others walked in circles, while still others thrust their heads into different places in the cage. It turned out that the birds repeated the behaviors they performed just prior to receiving the food. Since they were doing different things just before food arrived, they developed different rituals. In essence, the pigeons' behavior was the result of a coincidence based on what they were doing when the food appeared. So it is with many human superstitions.23 While operant conditioning explains how many superstitions form, an underlying question remains: Why do they form? We live in a world of uncertainty. Many of life's events are unpredictable, and superstitions provide a way for many people to cope with the uncertainty. Superstitious behavior often makes us feel we have control over the situation; that, in some way, our behavior can affect the outcome. Consequently, superstitious behavior is likely to arise in situations that are more uncertain, random, and uncontrollable. This attitude is very prevalent in Asia, where monks and holy men are accorded an enormous amount of ritualized reverence, somewhat akin to the American attitude of idolizing movie stars and baseball heroes. Such people are stereotyped, made larger than life, and saddled with all sorts of characteristics that few human beings can ever live up to. Even in the West, we share some of this attitude about meditation. We expect the meditator to be an extraordinarily pious figure in whose mouth butter would never dare to melt. A little personal contact with such people will quickly dispel this illusion. They usually prove to be people of enormous energy and gusto, who live their lives with amazing vigor. It is true, of course, that most holy men meditate, but they don't meditate because they are holy men.

That is backward. They are holy men because they meditate; meditation is how they got there. And they started meditating before they became holy, otherwise they would not be holy. This is an important point. A sizable number of students seems to feel that a person should be completely moral before beginning to meditate. It is an unworkable strategy. Morality requires a certain degree of mental control as a prerequisite. You can't follow any set of moral precepts without at least a little self-control, and if your mind is perpetually spinning like a fruit cylinder in a slot machine, self-control is highly unlikely. So mental culture has to come first. There are three integral factors in Buddhist meditation--morality, concentration, and wisdom. These three factors grow together as your practice deepens. Each one influences the other, so you cultivate the three of them at once, not separately. When you have the wisdom to truly understand a situation, compassion toward all parties involved is automatic, and compassion means that you automatically restrain yourself from any thought, word, or deed that might harm yourself or others; thus, your behavior is automatically moral. It is only when you don't understand things deeply that you create problems. If you fail to see the consequences of your actions, you will blunder. The person who waits to become totally moral before he begins to meditate is waiting for a situation that will never arise. The ancient sages say this person is like a man waiting for the ocean to become calm so that he can take a bath. To understand this relationship more fully, let us propose that there are levels of morality. The lowest level is adherence to a set of rules and regulations laid down by somebody else. It could be your favorite prophet.

It could be the state, the head of your tribe, or a parent. No matter who generates the rules, all you have to do at this level is know the rules and follow them. A robot can do that. Even a trained chimpanzee could do it, if the rules were simple enough and he were smacked with a stick every time he broke one. This level requires no meditation at all. All you need are the rules and somebody to swing the stick. Talk to your current caregivers. Inquire about the relative strengths and weaknesses of various treatment types. Let them know you are interested in broadening your approach to healing. Pay attention to your thoughts and beliefs. Carefully assess what can work and what can't. Do you secretly scoff at the idea that diet affects mental health? Are you already convinced that other possible addictions--like imbalanced use of technology or shopping or pornography--have no role to play in depression? If so, you're unlikely to give those things the attention they need in the pursuit of lasting healing. Make a list of such limiting thoughts. About each one, ask yourself: Why do I think this way? Is this the truth? How is it holding me back? Write out a history of things you've tried already to help you heal from depression. Chances are you'll see how each attempt to feel better stands apart from others, rarely working together.

You'll also notice all the things you haven't yet tried . It means you're not out of options after all. Jennifer used to love her life. She had a challenging career as a software developer, a husband and three children she adored, and a supportive network of family and friends. Her family lived in a nice home in a Dallas suburb with frequent block parties and barbecues. Jennifer's life seemed picture perfect, and for a long time she would have agreed with that description. Although I felt deeply sympathetic toward Jennifer as she explained her desperate situation, I wasn't at all surprised. Over several decades of working with depressed individuals, I've come to recognize that the vast majority of them suffer from sleep issues that turn into sleep disorders. It seems like a cruel irony: at a time when these people are struggling to regain stability and find a shred of hope, peaceful and restorative sleep eludes them. The relationship between sleep and depression isn't discussed as often as, say, symptoms of sadness or fatigue. And yet, after working with literally thousands of depressed patients, I know that sleep is virtually always a part of the problem and, more important, must be an integral part of the solution. So, every morning, I walked into that neighbourhood coffee house and started to smile while making eye contact with the people there. I'd smile at the barista who took my order, and made eye contact with the woman who made my drink. I'd smile while walking past the other customers. Then, as the days went on, I began talking to strangers I would meet there. I'd say anything from "I come here way too often, what about you?" to "Gorgeous day, isn't it?" If I saw a beautiful stranger in line, I'd approach her and say hi. Or I might just smile and see if she worked up the nerve to talk to me. If she didn't, I'd say something like, "I think you're in here as much as I am!" (which would always result in a conversation, and sometimes, a phone number.) Pretty soon, and before I got to the front of the line, those amazing baristas would have my drink ready to go for me. They began talking to me, and after about a month, I knew all of their names, and they knew mine. They knew about my job and my addiction to camping (and pretty much anything outdoors.) I knew about their kids, and their spouses, and the demand of their school and work schedules.

We sympathized over this crazy thing called life. We even had conversations about love. It began to feel like a little family in there. Then something interesting happened. I don't know if it's because I started smiling at them, or chatting with them as I put the cream and sugar in my coffee, but they began giving me my daily, morning drink for free. They refused to let me pay for it. Something had shifted, and it waspermeant. There's always a risk when pointing to specific companies as exemplars. Jim Collins's best sellers Good to Great and Built to Last included profiles of some companies that didn't end up lasting very long and others that turned out to be not so great. Certainly, working at Slack and BCG isn't perfect. Some employees I spoke with told me they'd had bad experiences with heavy-handed managers. As one former employee said of Slack, "They really did try to be a psychologically safe company. It's just that not everyone was equally skilled at maneuvering some of those nuances." Creating the kind of company where people feel comfortable raising concerns without the fear of getting fired takes work and vigilance. For now, the strategies of BCG and Slack seem to be successful. Both organizations are beloved by their employees and customers; on Glassdoor.com, BCG has been named among the ten "Best Places to Work" for eight of the past nine years, while Slack has an average anonymous review of 4.8 out of 5 stars, with 95 percent of employees saying they'd recommend the company to a friend, and 99 percent approval of the CEO. It is worth noting that, regardless of future profit margins or returns to shareholders, these companies, at the time of writing, show concern and commitment to helping their employees thrive by giving them the freedom to be indistractable. There's always a risk when pointing to specific companies as exemplars. Jim Collins's best sellers Good to Great and Built to Last included profiles of some companies that didn't end up lasting very long and others that turned out to be not so great. Certainly, working at Slack and BCG isn't perfect. Some employees I spoke with told me they'd had bad experiences with heavy-handed managers.